When Raychel Renna was growing up, people liked to joke that the self-described “Jersey Girl” had two fathers.
“I had teachers throughout my whole childhood who thought I had gay parents because it would be my dad and my stepdad who’d show up at every parent teacher conference, at every soccer game, and every dance, and everything. So, that’s kind of a funny, unique part of my childhood,” Raychel says, laughing.
Today Raychel serves as political director for House GOP Conference Chair Rep. Elise Stefanik and is the co-founder and chair of Independent Women’s Network’s new D.C. chapter. The D.C. chapter is one of 15 (and that number is growing!) IWN chapters around the country. It was established in February. A recent evening featured a talk by another of Raychel’s onetime bosses, Rep. Claudia Tenney, for whom Raychel has worked as campaign manager, and afforded ample networking opportunities.
“We have nearly 150 members, which is really exciting in such a short period of time,” Raychel says. “A hundred people came to our first event to hear Claudia Tenney. It was really amazing, and people got to listen to her speak, ask questions and even get her advice. We’re going to do more events with special guests, members of Congress, and women leaders. There will also be a philanthropic component, such as volunteering at a shelter that helps women and families who are homeless or who need assistance. We plan to create a space for camaraderie and relationships among independent, conservative-minded women in D.C., but it’s also about giving back to the D.C. community.”
“We have nearly 150 members, which is really exciting in such a short period of time,” IWN’s DC cofounder and chair Raychel says. The D.C. chapter is one of 15 (and that number is growing!) IWN chapters around the country.
Raychel says her conservatism started with her two dads, both of whom instilled in her the importance of hard work.
“I was raised by a very strong conservative father, Italian—I’m 100% Italian,” Renna says. “You can imagine there are a lot of conservative values that come from that upbringing and I was very proud to have my dad who worked his way from a bus boy to a top marketing executive in the casino industry. I saw just how hard he worked for me to make sure I had what I needed and put me through college, so that really instilled in me the importance of work ethic, but also conservative values. He taught me that we earn our money, and this is a free marketplace, and this is America, it’s the American dream. In many ways, I think my dad embodies that. So, I always had this passion in me to fight for those values.”
Renna’s “other dad” works for Lockheed Martin, the aerospace company, and was also an exemplar of hard work and self-reliance. He is the father of Renna’s only sibling, her little sister, who was graduating from high school the weekend we spoke. “I think you become pretty tough when you are raised by two dads,” Renna jokes.
Renna graduated from Lenape High School in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, and went on to Syracuse University in New York. “I chose Syracuse kind of on a whim,” she says. “I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do but I wanted a school that had kind of a big atmosphere, big environment, and they did have a good political science and communications program, so decided to end up there and graduated in ’17.” While at Syracuse, Renna was enrolled in an honors political science program that required a thesis. Her topic: political ideology and feelings towards feminism.
“The issue of feminism has always been very personal for me,” Raychel says. “I was going to a liberal university, being told by my professors, colleagues, and friends, that in order to be a woman and pro-woman, you have to be a liberal. There’s this huge embrace of far-left feminism ideology. And my feeling and belief was always that there are a lot of issues that are women’s issues, and that you don’t have to focus on a select few and embrace extreme beliefs in order to be pro-woman.
She texted her father back that she wanted to work for Rep. Elise Stefanik. “I was knocking on [her] door and fortunately [her staff] was also knocking on my door.”
“Why is it that only liberal woman are supposed to identify as feminists? I explored common ground. What I found was obviously abortion is a very divisive issue, but there’s plenty of common ground. Fundamentally, we all believe that women should be treated equally. We think women should be treated fairly. We think there should be paid family leave, though it does not have to be a one-size-fits-all, government program. But there are ways to make sure that women’s protections are strengthened, and it doesn’t have to be a far-left movement.”
During her time at Syracuse, Raychel did not hide her conservative opinions. “I was always a very outspoken student, and I think it’s important that, especially as Republican women, we’re not to be silenced by any professor or otherwise,” she says. Sometimes students approached her and whispered that they shared her viewpoint, as they told her they were too afraid to speak out as she had done.
The other thing Renna did at Syracuse was dance. She danced and held leadership positions at Syracuse’s DanceWorks, the campus’ largest student-run organization, which put on well-attended shows that included jazz, hip hop, and tap dancing. “I was more of a hip hop and jazz dancer,” Raychel admits. In her senior year, Renna’s dance was described in the school newspaper as “a sassy hip-hop number to Britney Spears that she said is sure to pump up the crowd, while her friend performed a contemporary dance that ‘celebrates loving your body at any shape and size.’”
While Renna loved dance, there was never any doubt that she was going to work amid the rough-and-tumble of politics. Right out of college, she landed a job as campaign manager for state assembly seat races in New Jersey. At the ripe old age of 22, in 2018, Renna became campaign manager for a New York congressional member who had a strong national profile, and become a mentor of Renna’s, Claudia Tenney. After a hard-fought race, Tenney narrowly lost.
Renna went to work with a political consulting firm in Washington, D.C., and then went to work for Congressman Mike Turner from Ohio, eventually becoming Communications Director. How did she come to work for Stefanik? “It’s a funny story because it’s something that came full circle. I remember the moment my dad texted me an article with that subject line, ‘youngest woman ever elected to Congress,’ and his message: ‘one day this could be you.’
“And I texted him back, ‘No, Dad, one day I want to go work for her.’ So, I always had in mind that she was a tremendous role model, not just for me, but for so many young women.” Renna had gotten to know Stefanik a bit during the Tenney campaign, and Renna had stayed in touch with the Stefanik staff. “When she became GOP House Conference Chair, there was an opportunity and I was knocking on their door and fortunately they were also knocking on my door, and it worked out and I ended up becoming her political director, which helps support not just her reelection effort, but her important work for EPAC, which is her effort to support and elect more Republican women in Congress and her work in leadership for the House to make sure we win back the House majority.”
Rep. Stefanik’s E-PAC (Engage, Elevate and Elect) is a nationwide effort to elect more Republican women to Congress.
Although her position as head of the D.C. IWN chapter is her first official connection with IW, Renna has been in our orbit—or we have been in her orbit—since she first attended an IWF event in 2016. She loved the program and the chance to get together with other young conservatives. “I think the environment is getting better for conservative women,” Renna sums up. “Back in 2018 when the A.O.C.s of the world came about, there was this huge media narrative and push for Democratic women. And after that, we’ve seen a real change in the tide. I think conservative women in D.C. and in the entire country are fed up with feeling silenced whether it’s by their boss, their professor, their coworker—they’re tired of it.
“I think that women are feeling more comfortable to speak out about the issues that matter to them and to embrace their political beliefs and their political party if they’re Republican. I think that, with this election, there’s a lot of excitement, the 2022 midterms. There are so many incredible women running. There are 298 Republican women filed to run for Congress, which is a record. And I think that speaks to the excitement and momentum for conservative women, not just those who are running, but those everywhere.”
IWF feels positive just hearing Renna’s energy and enthusiasm. We know that her IWN chapter–and the future of the conservative women’s movement–is in good hands with this Jersey girl who learned lessons about hard work and the American dream from her two Dads.